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Ex-Army officer returns Queen's honour in protest at Troubles amnesty 'betrayal'

By Adrian Rutherford

A former Army chief has said he will hand back an honour presented to him by the Queen in protest at the government's decision to refuse an amnesty for soldiers caught up in the Troubles.

Retired Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan, claimed it amounted to a "betrayal".

He was speaking amid a row over the withdrawal of a proposed statute of limitations to prevent the prosecution of former troops who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles from a planned consultation on dealing with the past.

Mr Kemp told the Daily Express: "As a former infantry soldier I am so outraged by this unprecedented betrayal of our fighting men that I am returning the hard-won Commission awarded to me by the Queen that I have prized for 40 years."

On Friday, a long-delayed consultation on proposals to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was unveiled. The four-month process will canvass views on a series of new mechanisms to investigate, document and uncover the truth around killings during the 30-year conflict.

Last year, the Government indicated that a statute of limitations protecting security force members from historic prosecutions may be added to the consultation.

This was opposed in Northern Ireland, amid fears from some unionists that it could open the door to a de facto amnesty for former paramilitaries.

However, while the decision to remove the contentious proposal from the consultation was widely expected, it has generated opposition both within the Cabinet and on the Conservative backbenches.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is understood to be among ministers unhappy at the prospect of veteran servicemen being prosecuted.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said the consultation, which she insisted had the backing of Cabinet, was only focusing on what had been agreed at Stormont House in 2014.

General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army who won the Military Cross in Northern Ireland, described the process of investigating the historic allegations as "ridiculous".

"A statute of limitations might result in some injustice but the number of cases will be very small set against the uncertainty and fear faced by soldiers who are now elderly and who were doing their duty," he said.

Meanwhile, a former Chief Constable has said any attempt to deal with the past is likely to run into difficulty. Sir Hugh Orde, who was Chief Constable from 2002 to 2009, set up the now-defunct Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

In a letter to The Times, he said any attempt to take a different or radical approach to dealing with the past was likely to be attacked by those who do not want to move on.

"It is far more comfortable to hide behind the strict legal process that ill fits the situation, costs millions and delivers little," he wrote.

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